Seven will return for a second round next month.
The Judicial Nominating Commission conducted its first round of interviews Tuesday for a seat on the state's second highest appeals court, an opening that will be created by Judge John T. Sharpnack's retirement in May 2008.
The seven semi-finalists, selected after the daylong session of interviews and closed-door deliberations lasting about an hour, are Dubois Superior Judge Elaine B. Brown, Morgan Superior Judge Jane Spencer Craney, Wayne Superior Judge P. Thomas Snow, Dearborn Superior Judge G. Michael Witte, Sen. Brent E. Steele of Bedford firm Steele & Steele, Leslie C. Shively of Shively & Associates in Evansville, and Stephen J. Johnson, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council.
Those who didn't make the first cut included Greenwood attorney William Barrett, Morgan Superior Judge Christopher Burnham, Henry County Prosecutor Kit C. Dean Crane, New Albany attorney Richard Fox, Vincennes attorney Jeffrey Kolb, Boone Superior Judge Rebecca McClure, Vanderburgh County deputy prosecutor Daniel Miller, and Mitchell attorney William Mullis.
"We have one of the best fields of candidates I can remember," Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, who chairs the commission, said after the interviews. "We just don't have enough room for them all."
During interviews, commissioners asked typical questions, including why they want to be on the court, how applicants thought their background would influence or complement their work on the court, what particular areas of law they might like to see addressed, and their views about balancing quantity and quality in a time of increasing caseloads. Commissioners focused on specific points of interviewees' backgrounds, such as cases they've handled to their particular interests inside and outside the law.
Three applicants - Dean, Mullis, and Judge Burnham spent time in their interviews talking about their military experience and how it compliments their legal experience and would do the same if they were selected for the appellate seat.
Judge Burnham also spoke about his interest in technology and involvement with the Judicial Technology and Automation Committee since its inception. He went up against one of his local colleagues, Judge Craney, who he had also worked under years ago - she was Morgan County Prosecutor and he was a deputy prosecutor during the 1980s.
Boone Superior Judge Rebecca S. McClure told the commission about three cases she felt were important and demonstrated her analytical skills. One dealt with home-schooled students who wanted to take one course at a local school. Another was a case involving golf carts being classified as motor vehicles, and the third - which she couldn't say much about because it's ongoing - involves former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jack Trudeau, who is charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor and aiding, inducing, or causing illegal possession or consumption of alcohol by a minor. All three cases present issues of first impression in Indiana, she said.
Judge Witte from Dearborn County sees the role of an appellate judge evolving from its traditional functions, noting that a jurist must be more of a leader in the judicial branch these days rather than just issuing decisions.
When Wayne Superior Judge Snow was interviewing, Chief Justice Shepard noted how he was impressed with what people said about the judge in how well he treats lawyers and litigants, and the chief justice described that as assuring.
Later, the chief justice also said he was impressed with the connection Johnson has with the different branches of the government and the legal community as the head of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council.
Dubois Superior Judge Brown told commissioners she brought a unique perspective to the applicant field. She's been a judge for 15 years but is only 3 ½ years removed from active law practice because her judicial terms have not been concurrent. That has given her insight into both sides of the bench and helps her see firsthand how settlements, expedited hearings, jurist approachability, and overall court efficiency really help the practicing bar.
Judge Brown, who was assigned to preside over a Clark County case involving judicial mandates, said she hopes the appellate opportunity could help her become a "true student of the law."
Trial judges, prosecutors, and trial lawyers all want one of their own on the appellate court, according to one of the commissioners, who asked applicants what they thought about that sentiment and who they think is the best to serve on the court.
"You shouldn't be looking for someone to fit in one of those categories," Judge McClure said. "You want a person who will work hard and loves the law, and will represent the masses."
Now that the seven-member commission has selected semi-finalists, those chosen will return for second interviews scheduled for Dec. 12. Before that second round, the commission will decide a question for applicants to consider and focus their answers on.
Three finalists' names will be given to Gov. Mitch Daniels to make the final decision, which by law must happen within 60 days of receiving the commission's nominations.